DENVER - Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd, who had the three biggest catches of Sunday's gut-check 15-10 win over the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High, had 96 of the Bengals' hard-earned 249 yards and the final word.
"Turning point of the game," said Boyd of Evan McPherson's franchise-record 58-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
Boyd made it possible when the Bengals had just one shot from their own 41 after Denver's Brandon McManus missed a 51-yarder with nine seconds left. Quarterback Joe Burrow delivered a 19-yard strike over the middle to Boyd and he got got down in a hurry so the Bengals could call time out with four seconds left. Burrow said Boyd showed "great situational awareness," so the Bengals could execute, "Down, down, timeout."
Boyd knew the Ravens lost and that the Bengals were now tied with Baltimore at 8-6 above the AFC North. He also knows they play next Sunday at 1 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium.
"What was the score today? 41-40 or something?" asked Boyd indicating he knows the Ravens are far from easy, even at home.
They would love to take what they've got on the road back to the Paul, where they are 3-4. Which means they're 5-2, trying to go to 6-2 on the road for the first time since 2015.
"Road dogs," exulted nose tackle D.J. Reader coming off the field.
__Bengals head coach Zac Taylor gave the defensive tackles all a game ball after they helped hold the Broncos to 133 yards rushing on 34 carries. The Bengals No. 4 rush defense played as advertised. But the edge guys were huge, too. Trey Hendrickson summed it up best when he saw Taylor coming off the field and asked him, "How many times did they hold me? They called it twice." Hendrickson said, indicating it was a lot more than that.
He had half a sack, which may or may not extend his streak to ten straight games, upon further review, but he has 13 on the season, a half sack from the club record.
But it was Hendrickson's backup, Khalid Kareem, who made the play of the day when he ripped the ball from Broncos quarterback Drew Lock on a run-pass option that blew up at the Bengals nine early in the fourth quarter and the Broncos about to go up 16-15. Kareem had to leave the game and Taylor wasn't sure of his condition, but he knew what the play meant from the 2020 fifth-rounder from Notre Dave whose career has been hobbled by injury. He gave him a game ball.
"That's our team," Taylor said. "Everyone steps up. The defense sent the league a message today."
The message was this. For the fourth time this season they held a team under 300 yards. Linebacker Germaine Pratt sent the memo with a career-high 15 tackles. There is a fear that linebacker Joe Bachie, hurt on the hit that drove Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from the game, may have suffered a serious knee injury.
View some of the best in game images as the Bengals faced the Broncos in Week 15 of the 2021 NFL season.
__As McPherson watched McManus miss with nine seconds left in the half, he was kind of happy because he had to go to the bathroom. But he put it out of his mind when Burrow and Boyd worked their magic.
"It means a lot to me they have the confidence in me to make that kick," said McPherson, who hit 60-yarders going both ways in warmups. "That's a confidence booster."
He knew the 58-yarder was the Bengals record because somebody mentioned it to him after his 57-yarder against Miami in preseason.
"But I didn't remember that then," he said. McPherson also said it's the longest of his career. "I had a 58 that was short in college last year," he said.
His 53-yarder to open the game's scoring means he now has nine of at least 50 yards, tying the second most by an NFL rookie. His next one ties the record. Believe it or not, he says neither were hit great.
"With the 53 and the 58, I didn't hit it as clean as I wanted, too," McPherson said. "I guess watching them flying through the air I kind of thought it had the distance. I wouldn't say I was too nervous about it not having the distance. As soon as I hit it, I knew it had a chance. It just kind of had to carry. I knew we were going into a little wind there. So I knew to just hit a pretty good ball, start it on the right line and it was going to go through."
But it wasn't just McPherson as the specials teams bounced from last week's disaster. In his 204th game, Kevin Huber had his best game of 2021 with seven punts that had a 50-yard net with the help of one of his fairly new gunners, cornerback Tre Flowers. Huber averaged 52.6 with a long of 61 and drilled three inside the 20. In his first game of the year, punt returner Trent Taylor flawlessly handled three punts and a kickoff.
Burrow played game manager to perfection Sunday. No picks. He took check downs. He ran for four first downs (with the help of a face mask penalty) and had 25 yards rushing on five scrambles.
"I don't think I could have done that at the beginning of the year," said Burrow of his rehabbed knee, tipping his hat to his support group as well as his own hard work.
"He did a great job taking what they gave us," Taylor said.
His passer rating was 103, almost as many yards as he passed for with 157 on 15 of 22. That was his second fewest of the season, which came in the win in Vegas Nov. 21 and it came with rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase getting a career-low one catch for three yards.
But he had Boyd's wide open 56-yard TD for their longest play since Chase's 82-yarder In Baltimore on Oct. 24 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Complete with Boyd's juke of safety Justin Simmons.
It was wide open, Burrow said, because the Bengals went to something else when they saw the Broncos give them one-safety high as they had been whenever Burrow went under center.
"Great call by Zac," Burrow said.
"How about TB making the safety miss?" Taylor asked
"I think the coaches expect it and you guys expect it," Boyd told the media. "When one of our receivers gets in the open field, we can make a move."
Taylor wasn't surprised by the final score.
"15 to 10 sounds about right when you play them and one of the things particularly that their defense does is make you panic," Taylor said. "They make you panic and force plays and turn the ball over and then their offense capitalizes. I was really proud of our offense, just taking what they are giving us and not overreacting."